1.) The baseline of general corruption is fantastically drawn. It's taken for granted that yes, you buy office. The fact that simony is only thrown around when a Spainard is elected is indicative of the problem; also, it helped it was stated outright. Sure, the throne of St. Peter was for sale--to nice Roman boys. Spanish boys need to know their place.
2.) There isn't a lot of shock value for anyone who did basic medieval history, so if you're hoping for a start value of DEFCON MY GOD WHAT then yeah, there's not a lot of it. This worked very well for teh sequence of events that next occurred.
3.) Alexander's VI's shock in attempted poisoning was in context fantastic. Buying and selling office was one thing; murder of Christ's representative on earth was another thing entirely. What actually got to me with that was that Pope's dying under strange conditions isn't rare, either. Historically speaking, some were hurried toward their personal meeting with God for various reasons; Alexander's genuine shock was a good way to get across how much of an outside he is to Roman ecclesiastical politics again; at the dinner table, no one was shocked someone was poisoned. They were shocked it wasn't Alexander.
4.) Interesting that Cesare wasn't shocked. Possibly due to being raised in Rome, possibly due to the fact that unlike Alexander, he's really not meant for the Church. The contrast between them in calling was well-drawn; Alexander felt a genuine calling for the Church, and it shows. Cesare really, really, really doesn't, and that shows, too, not just or even mostly in what Cesare says, but in how he acts.
5.) This is not a subtle show, no, but I was pleasantly surprised how much nuance Jeremy Irons is bringing to Pope Alexander VI as a man. I believe he's a true son of the Church, that he believes in the inviolability of the papacy and the Pope, of his place intervening between God and man, and his public and private faith. The fact he's truly devout makes the contrast between faith and the mechanics of the institutions of men being corrupt by the fact men created them very apparent. He's cynical about men (though again, that papal dinner was an example of how he's less cynical than he should be) but he's not cynical about God.
6.) I can't say enough about his performance during his coronation. Beautifully done.
7.) Yes, the whipping scene was hot as hell. I--yeah. Wow. Well fucking done.
8.) The monkey metaphor working in abstract and concrete was hilarious and telling. I figured Cesare brought the monkey to test for poison, but I'm wondering if he also knew what the Borgias were being called by the Roman cardinals (and the French king).
9.) Cardinals making ball and penis jokes: never not hilarious. Rodrigo's expression when being felt up to verify his manhood in front of the other Cardinals was possibly the best thing ever.
10.) The second son--I cannot remember his name right now--is going to turn out badly. Really, really badly. I see why he wasn't put in the Church and Cesare was; if the show wants anyone to believe he's the favorite son, it's really not getting across. Cesare is being groomed to be teh next Pope; he's being sent to play with swords to get him out of the way. Pope Alexanders' scolding of Cesare--seriously, it was a scolding made it clear that power came from within the Church, not the Vatican military, which apparently sucked, hence Cesare's intelligence and drive is chained to holy orders.
Also, he's annoying. God. Like, outright no charm at all annoying.
11.) I like Lucrezia. She still very much a kid and it shows.
I really expected this to start out a lot more soap-opera-y and overdone; I'll be honest, I'm relieved. Shock overkill would really spoil some of the more--unusual--actions taken by Alexander.
12.) Papal decree of bullfighting last Sunday of every month. Such a Spaniard. I love him.
I didn't hope too much for actually liking the characters, but I really do. The relationships are complex, and there's a sprinkling of small moments that show the genuine affection between them as well as the more noticeable bigger moments; Cesare grinning at his brother when he's being fitted for armor, indulgent; Alexander with Lucrezia; the affection of Vannozza for her children; Cesare's love and respect and awe of his father despite chafing at the restrictions; Alexander's surprise at his own reaction to Guilia. When the relationships are genuine and not based on self-promotion or self-interest, they're so much more dangerous; they're something the characters can't stand to lose.
Cesare and Lucrezia's feelings for each other are fascinating, as she's being played as a girl not yet really interested in--or aware of--sex or sexual attraction, whereas Cesare's feelings for and attraction to her is sexual as well as emotional, but I'm not entirely sure he's aware of it consciously. The garden scene was rather confusingly sweet on that level; she's a kid horsing around with her elder brother, while he's a man with a woman he's attracted to in his arms, and his moment of brief awareness was suppressed, but it was very much there.
I kind of want to disclaim on quality or historical accuracy, but weirdly, unlike the Tudors, in this instance the characters are attracting me enough not to even care.
ETA One more thing, remebered when I was answering a comment.
Their first meeting and how they relate to each other throughout the episode is one of the things I'm hoping they'll develop in regard to Lucrezia and Guilia. Lucrezia very innocent of what her position as the Pope's daughter means in terms not just of people who will apply for her hand, but how she'll be used by her family to exert their interests and gain support. Guilia's early conversations with her about beauty and intelligence as weapons I'm hoping will be expanded to show her arming Lucrezia with what she'll need to survive both the politics of Rome and the politics of her marriage.
ETA: Can I just say Cardinal Sforza is kind of hot? I like the quiet, devious type.
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